The Eden project in Cornwall has installed plastic grass in a play area to prevent them from becoming muddy.
The garden is one of a number of organizations and public bodies laying of artificial turf in what environmentalists say is an epidemic of plastic that is being spread across the UK. There was an increase in interest across the UK to buy artificial turf during lockdown, according to data on Google Trends.
The growing way of installing plastic instead of natural lawns is coming as artificial turf retailers are making increasingly loud environmental claims about their products.
The latest development is artificial turf known as “air”, which manufacturers say is able to purify air pollution by oxidizing organic components and bad odors at the molecular level.
Campaigners describe this as greenwash, pointing out that natural grass already “purifies the air” via photosynthesis, absorbs carbon dioxide and produces oxygen. Grass also provides habitat for insects and worms, attracts birds that feed on invertebrates, and helps rainwater run away.
Richard Dowling, a proponent, said the speed and extent with which natural gardens were removed and replaced with plastic was “a disaster” unfolding. “This is something that is rapidly taking over and we have to treat it like a disaster now. If we lose all our gardens, our wildlife – which is already being pushed out by intensive agriculture and pesticides – will have nowhere to go. . ”
Britain has lost more of its natural biodiversity since the Industrial Revolution than anywhere else in Europe, a study by researchers at London’s Natural History Museum found. Dowling has launched a petition to introduce an ecological pest control on artificial turf.
Carlisle City Council – which says in its mission statement on climate change that it wants to play a full role in protecting the environment – was recently criticized for spending £ 50,000 on a pop-up park that used artificial turf.
Somerset County Council laid plastic grass on a roundabout and then sent an official to mow it with a trimmer.
The Eden project confirmed that it had used plastic grass in a children’s play area. Its mission statement says it’s dedicated to improving the collective understanding of the connections between all living things … fresh air, clean water, fertile soil, rich biodiversity. “
A spokesman said: “To ensure the safety of the children who enjoy this temporary play area, we made the decision to use durable and soft artificial grass, which will be recycled many times. In this context, real grass would turn to mud within hours and would therefore not have been sustainable. ”
Research shows that plastic grass – which is usually made from a mixture of plastic – polypropylene, polyurethane and polyethylene – increases the heat in the areas where it is used. When degraded, it can release microplastics into the environment, which are thought to be harmful to humans.
There is little data on the carbon footprint of artificial turf, most of which is made in China and Vietnam and shipped to the UK. “It’s a fossil fuel product,” said Charlotte Howard, a Wiltshire gardener who fights for natural gardens.
Howard says the boom in fake grass is being turbo-charged by social media influencers such as Ms. Hinch. Howard specializes in helping families in newly built houses whose gardens have poor soil as a result of developers removing and selling the top soil, leaving the garden with poor soil and no drainage.
“When I go in to remove artificial lawns, the clutter is awful. They often stink, and when you lift the plastic grass up, you find a sea of dead worms,” she said.
Howard said despite manufacturers’ claims that artificial lawns were not maintenance-free. Pet feces must be scraped off, the pile of grass must be swept, weeds creep through, pet urine causes bad odors, and the plastic eventually degrades, she said.
Dr. Robert Francis, an ecologist at King’s College London, is researching the ecological impact of plastic grass. “Artificial lawns meet the cultural requirements of ‘good’ lawns,” he wrote. “Yet they do so at the expense of any remaining ‘naturalness’ and embodiment of life.”
He said his research had found that artificial turf can increase the risk of urban flooding because precipitation cannot run into the ground, leaving more of it to run away.
The association of artificial turf installers did not respond to requests for comment.